Sunday, 28 April 2013

Moot Camp

International Law students can choose to compete in various international moot court competitions for class credit, including Phillip C. Jessup, ICC Moot Court, and Jean Pictet. However, these competitions are not for the faint at heart and not to be entered lightly! They are huge time commitments that will span several quarters, consuming at least two of them. It was my privilege to serve as coach for this year’s ICC Moot Court team, and I am awed by the team’s heroic effort and dedication to excellence. 

The team assembled in the first quarter, and the three briefs – prosecution, victim, and defense – were due near the end of the second quarter. The third quarter featured first national qualifying rounds and then, at the very end of the quarter, the international rounds. All in conjunction with class work, term papers and projects, and externship/clinical program demands. Even from my purely supporting role on the sidelines, it was a grueling race to the finish! Endless mooting and brainstorming sessions in the weeks leading up to the final rounds; then the week of the final rounds, the entire team sharing a rented apartment in The Hague, working day and night to prepare our three presenters, all non-native English speakers, for their submissions and rebuttals. It was a phenomenal experience to watch the team rally in the face of obstacles such as the belated receipt of opposing counsel briefs, and come out fighting – strong, resilient, and holding their own against the best teams in world. It was an exciting week, and an exhausting one!  
Deciding to enter such a competition is much like deciding to run a marathon. Anyone in good health can run a 5K, a distance easily managed in 30 minutes or so. Most can also manage a 10K; a half-marathon within reach of those willing to commit to a training schedule. But marathons are something else; they are definitely not for everyone. They require a long-term commitment to daily interval training. You must not only push yourself but pace yourself, develop an instinct for knowing when to take a break and when to push through pain and injuries. And in beginning such a race, you must see it through to the end. There can be no whimpering back to the starting line when you hit the wall; rather, you carry on and move forward, albeit limping and groaning every step of the way, to the finish line. The only losers are those who lose heart and give up. Everyone who crosses that finish line is a winner, because in the end it’s not about how fast you ran or who got there before you; rather, it’s about setting a goal and seeing it through. Your toughest competition will always be with yourself.  

Life is also like a marathon; not for the faint of heart! Setbacks, defeats, unexpected health issues, deaths, betrayals, and just plain weariness can at times make you want to give up. But after a good rant, a good cry, a good sleep, you realize you are no quitter, you get that second wind, and you push through to the finish. No matter what or who in life lets you down, you will always have yourself to fall back on. And, those very special team mates who will never, ever, let you down. They are out there, you will find them, and they will help you rally to the finish. Victory is sweet!

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Here Comes the Sun

The good news, the sun has finally decided to make an appearance and stick around more or less consistently. And it has become quite the night owl! You emerge from a restaurant after dinner to find the sun waiting up for you, and query, “Shouldn’t you be in bed?” But you ask cheerfully, as it is rather nice to be accompanied by such a sunny disposition on your way home. And there is so much you can accomplish with all that extra daylight! Whether you work at home or travel to school or to your externship, you no longer start and end your working day in the dark. Somehow all those hours spent doing research don’t seem quite so onerous when you know the sun will outlast your attention span. At the end of your working day you can still follow the sun, here, there and everywhere! You can go running outdoors rather than on a treadmill at the gym, or go for a long bike ride in the countryside rather than sprinting through town in the dark. Late outdoor festivals, diverse water craft drift along the canal late into the evening, and the barbeque calls out for a light. Good day, sunshine!  

However, there is also some bad news. Although the sun is staying up later every night, it never seems to sleep in anymore; it just keeps getting up earlier! Now you ask, “What goes on in your mind?” You wake up in what seems like the middle of the night, and there it is, streaming through your window, more audaciously insistent than a hungry cat. Golden slumbers indeed! You pull a pillow over your head, groaning, “I’m only sleeping!” Sure, you could use a sleep mask, but the problem is that the sun has awakened the birds and those birds can sing; it’s Blue Jay Way outside your window. Ok, make that a sleep mask and ear plugs, and pretend they are singing in the dead of night. And in the end, you finally just get up; nothing to say but it's OK. Thinking of all you can accomplish on what promises to be a very long day – if you can stay awake, that is! On such a hard day's night, the Sun King can wear out his welcome. Mr. Moonlight, come again please! 
Ah well, that’s a day in the life in the Netherlands, always the tradeoffs. No free refills of coffee or tea, but always a cookie or piece of chocolate served alongside. No hot water in the W.C.’s, but heated towel racks in the bathroom. All those rules and regulations, yet with respect to personal choices always letting it be. No place to park but a ticket to ride on always-timely public transport. Because, there is always something. It’s all right!

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Water, water everywhere, and lots of drop and drink!

American Henry David Thoreau wrote, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation, and go to the grave with the song still in them.” And according to Pink Floyd, “Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way.” Evidently, it is not the Dutch way! According to the UN World Happiness Report, the Netherlands is the fourth happiest country in the world. It is ranked by the OECD as the third-best country for work-life balance and highest in terms of overall well-being. Why? Perhaps it is more a matter of attitude than amplitude.

First, the Dutch value free time. They work an average of 30.6 hours per week, as compared to the EU average of 37.5 and American average of 46-50 hours. This leaves quality time for doing things, rather than keeping one’s nose firmly to the grindstone simply to buy things. Even students trying to keep up with the insanely-paced quarter system always find time to have some fun. Utrecht has so many pubs and cafes to choose from, all with inexpensive and fabulous beer, wine and coffee, not to mention one cultural event or another happening on any given weekend!
Second, the Dutch like to live simply and self-sufficiently. Take the biking culture. Everyone bikes everywhere, regardless of weather or destination, in whatever attire the destination requires – without a lot of concern over arriving with wet hair or shoes. Practicality is far more important than appearances, which is quite liberating!
Third, the Dutch are at heart egalitarian. The notion of “keeping up with the Joneses” is not a factor for the simple reason that “the Joneses” are frowned upon as pretentious anyway. The only pecking order one need concern oneself with is that of the road. And that is simple: bikes, pedestrians, and then cars. (But trams trump all!)
Fourth, the Dutch are both very organized and very tolerant, qualities likely arising from many centuries of reclaiming land from the sea. Historically, all factions living in the same polder area were forced to cooperate, even if at war with one other, to fulfill a greater common purpose – literally keeping their heads above water! The complexities of maintaining dykes and sluices, coordinating ships passage through the locks on all those canals, all require the ability to forge a consensus and get along. This explains perhaps the large degree of organization and planning in Dutch society – juxtaposed with tolerance for drugs, prostitution, and controlled chaos such as the Utrecht phenomena of, for example, raucous, police-led skate nights through the center of town!
But, at the end of the day, it’s the drop. I am talking about black licorice, of course, which comes in more varieties than Belgian beers. Sweet, minty, and salty – and double salty! Hard, soft, chewy, or crusted, formed into every shape imaginable, coins, animals, even cars. There are stores with bins that cover entire walls, each filled with different types of drop to scoop up, mix and match. Yes, there is the chocolate, the breads, and the cheeses, all so good you will go home thinking your local fare tastes like sawdust. But drop, and the love of drop, is as uniquely and quintessentially Dutch as it gets. Dutch people eat more black licorice than any other people in the world, on average 5 pounds per year per person! And that, my friends, is why the Dutch are so happy!

Sunday, 7 April 2013

If it ain't Dutch, it ain't much!

Local proverbs can either fall into the “lost in translation” category, or present a whole new way of looking at things! Here are some Dutch proverbs and metaphors along with a literal English translation. I shall leave it to you to discern the true meaning!  

“Waar de zon schijnt, is de maan niet nodig.” – Where the sun shines the moon is not needed.
“Heb je geen paard, gebruik dan een ezel.” – If you have no horse, then use a donkey.

“Bitter in de mond maakt het hart gezond.”  – Bitter in the mouth makes the heart healthy. 

“Wie twee meesters dient moet tegen een beiden liegen.” - Who serves two masters must lie to both.

“Als twee honden vechten om een been, loopt de derde er mee heen.” – If two dogs fight over a bone, a third will run off with it.  

“Lachen als en boer met kiespijn.” – Laughing like a farmer with molar pain. 

“Wie boter op het hooft heft, moet uit de zon blijven.” – Who has butter on his head should stay out of the sun.  

“Wat de boer niet kent dat eet hij niet.” - What the farmer doesn't know, he doesn't eat.  

“Als de hemel valt, krijgen we allemaal een blauwe pet.” - If the sky falls, we'll all get a blue hat. 

“Als je ontbijt op bed wil, slaap je mar in de keuken.” – If you want breakfast in bed, then just sleep in the kitchen.  

“Bij hem komt de maan al door de wolken.” – With him the moon already comes through the clouds. (An allusion to baldness!) 

“Zo de wind waait, wsait z’n jasje.” – As the wind blows, so blows his jacket. 

“Als het regent in September, valt kerstmis in December.” – If it rains in September, Christmas will fall in December. 

“Gebraden duiven vliegen niet.” -  Roasted doves don't fly. 

“Als apen hoger klimmen willen, ziet men al snel hun blote billen.”  – If apes want to climb higher, you will quickly enough see their naked buttocks. 

“Waar het hart vol van is, stroomt de mond van over.” - What fills the heart streams from the mouth. 

“De molen gaat niet om met wind die voorbij is.” – The windmill does not turn on wind that has passed.  

“Waar de dijk het laagst is, loop het eerst het water over.” – Where the dyke is lowest, the water runs over first. 

“Wie zichzelf niet belangrijk vindt, doet zijn werk niet goed.” - Who doesn't find himself important, doesn’t do good work.  

“Praatjes vullen geen gatjes.” – Talk fills no holes. 

“Vuil water blust ook een brand.” – Dirty water also extinguishes a fire. 

 “Drink zonder zorgen, de kater komt morgen.” – Drink without worry, the hangover comes tomorrow. 

“Buren zijn leuk, als je neit te vaak ziet.” – Neighbors are nice if you don’t see them too often. 

“Men can van een kale kip geen veren plukken.” – You can’t pluck feathers from a bald chicken. 

“Beter hard geblazen, dan de mond gebrand.” -- Better to blow hard than burn the mouth.  

“Wie op twee hazen te gelijk jaagt, vangt geen van beide.” - Who goes after two hares at once will catch neither. 

“Zachte heelmeesters maken stinkende wonden.” – Soft healers make stinking wounds. 

“Een ezel in het algemeen stoot zich niet tweemaal aan dezelfde steen.” – A donkey generally does not knock himself twice on the same stone. 

 “Doe maar gewoon, dan doe je al gek genoeg.” – Just act normal, then you’ll act foolish enough. 

“Als alle gekken konden vliegen hadden we een permanente zonsverduistering.” - If all fools could fly, we’d have a permanent eclipse of the sun.